The images come from so far away that it actually shows what the galaxies there looked like billions of years ago. This is because it took that long for the light to be seen, even traveling at the speed of light. The interesting thing here is that the further away a star or galaxy is from the Earth, the older the light it emanated that we see.
So, the further away an object is the further back in time we can go and this means that we can get a look at how things were when the universe started to form. It’s like having a time machine.
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President Biden said, “It’s hard to even fathom. It’s astounding. It’s an historic moment for science and technology, for America and all of humanity.”
“Mr. President, if you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that is the part of the universe that you’re seeing,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told President Biden. “Just one little speck of the universe.”
“We are looking back more than 13 billion years,” he added. “We are going back almost to the beginning,” he said.
NASA explained that the first image from its James Webb Space Telescope is the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail. Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.
The deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours – achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.
The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features. Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s largest, most powerful, and most complex space science telescope ever built. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.